Category Archives: universal monsters

Classic: ‘Shock’ theater ad for TV

shock theater ad

For those of us who grew up Monster Kids in the Monster World, this marked the epicenter of that world.

Shock – also known as Shock Theater.

I saw this ad bouncing around the internet recently and wanted to share it here. Regular readers of this blog know I’ve written a lot about Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine and what an influence it had on a couple of generations of kids. FM came decades after the movies it celebrated – including the classic Universal monster films – so the 1960s monster craze might have seemed unlikely.

Except for Shock.

In October 1957, Columbia Pictures’ TV subsidiary, Screen Gems, released a package of 52 horror films – including the classic Universal horror films like “Frankenstein” and “Dracula” – to TV.

The Shock package was a huge hit. Usually airing late at night – as was the case, a few years later, with host Sammy Terry on WTTV Channel 4 in Indianapolis – but sometimes airing at other times, Shock popularized the old Universal pictures once more.

Everything that followed came because of this. Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine, horror hosts, the wave of monster toys, cartoons, comics and novelties that began in the 1960s and continued for decades.

Long live Shock.

Classic: Titles for ‘Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein’

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I could probably do a blog just about “Bud Abbott and Lou Costello meet Frankenstein.”

I mean a whole blog. Every entry.

But that would be monotonous, wouldn’t it?

So I thought I would do some research and write a little about the opening credits for the 1948 film.

You all know the story by now: Universal had teamed up most of its titular creatures before and, by 1948, decided to give them a humorous setting by combining them with vaudeville comics Bud Abbott and Lou Costello. The comic duo would go on to “meet” several monsters and monster types in several films that followed, and one of my personal favorites is “Meet the Mummy.”

But I wanted to note in particular “Meet Frankenstein,” in which they meet not only Frankenstein’s Monster but also Dracula and the Wolfman.

The movie is so much fun and not, as some would attest, denigrating to the classic creatures.

But I wanted to mention a couple of things that I either knew about the opening titles or found out recently.

First, I should note that I saw that illustration above online recently and I was stumped. I knew I had seen it, but where?

Then in watching the sequence recently – and I watch it every chance i get, including each of its many airings on Svengoolie – I was charmed all over again by the opening titles.

I wish I could know what went through people’s minds when they saw these titles for the first time in a theater. Since the movie came out well before I was born, I never saw it in a theater. I saw it first on TV two decades after the movie debuted, and it was probably on Indy horror movie host Sammy Terry’s show.

The titles perfectly capture the funny/creepy nature of the movie, maybe as well as any movie of its time.

The brief animated sequence not only establishes Abbott and Costello – through their skeletons – as scaredy cats but also establishes the creatures.

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First Lon Chaney Jr. as the Wolfman.

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Then Bela Lugosi playing Dracula for only the second time.

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Then Glenn Strange as the monster.

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Then Lenore Aubert, whose character isn’t named in the titles but seems to suggest a svelte Bride of Frankenstein (which she is not in the movie, of course).

In looking up the opening titles on artofthetitle.com – which i can’t recommend too highly – i discovered that “Woody Woodpecker” creator Walter Lantz animated the opening titles. Further research indicates Lantz also animated the transformation of Lugosi’s Count Dracula to vampire bat form.

The titles are a piece of movie history, Universal monsters history and are perfect.

‘Universal Monsters’ universe seems to be stop-and-start

universal monsters

Okay, eventually we’re going to be calling this “The Curse of the Universal Monster Franchise.”

I’d been meaning to post a few thoughts about Universal’s proposal to turn its classic Universal Monsters collection into a shared universe. You know, shared universes are the biggest deal in the entertainment industry right now. Marvel has been mapping out, to great success, its Marvel Cinematic Universe since 2008. DC/Warner Bros. are trying to do the same with their superheroes. We’ve heard about shared universe efforts from several directions, including one I wrote about a while back regarding a brilliant plan to create a shared universe that draws from low-budget 1950s movies ala Roger Corman.

I was hoping that the recent “Dracula Untold” movie wasn’t the kick-off of Universal’s efforts, and while news coverage of the Universal universe (ha!) indicates that it was, I wonder if the movie’s underwhelming reception and box-office performance won’t mean it will be officially “forgotten” when the series gets a proper start. Assuming it does.

The studio had planned a reboot of “The Mummy” in June 2016. Now word has come that “The Mummy” will be delayed until March 2017 and another, still-unspecified second movie has been delayed from 2017 to 2018.

I don’t think it’s a bad thing that Universal has delayed the kick-off. If the studio doesn’t have a firm idea of how all these characters fit together, it’s better to wait until they do.

Launching a Universal Monsters shared universe isn’t easy. I think that’s what the studio wanted to do in 2004 with the Hugh Jackman movie “Van Helsing,” considering that the titular action hero met Frankenstein’s monster, a werewolf and Dracula during the course of the story. But while the movie had a few effective moments, all the elements never jelled.

And I’m not sure that Universal should necessarily take its cues from Marvel, which took a slow burn approach to universe-building with solo movies that – if you missed a few Easter eggs or a post-credits scene – gave no overt indication to moviegoers not in the know of the “Avengers” franchise to come.

This despite the fact that Universal wants, apparently more than anything else, to build an “Avengers” team of monsters.

It might be more beneficial for Universal to consider building its universe around a city – London, perhaps – and a time – maybe around World War II. This is just my idea, but the prospect of a great city with so much history, so close in proximity to the European birthplace of so many of Universal’s monsters and heroes, at such a pivotal time, has so much potential.

Characters could come and go, playing roles large and small, with the leads of one movie – a mummy that’s seeking vengeance at the exhibition of Egyptian artifacts at a great British museum – crossing paths with a doctor who is trying to bring life back to bodies sacrificed in the war. And then … this traveling curiosity, an amphibian creature captured in the Amazon, rolls into a quiet town in the English countryside.

Like I said, there’s a lot of potential for stories told by someone who puts more thought into it than I just did in a couple of paragraphs there.

Universal is, of course, the home of the monster rally, with “team up” movies like “House of Dracula” and “House of Frankenstein” and “Abbott and Costello meet …” a part of its past.

Maybe they should look to that past rather than try to force their classic creatures into anybody else’s modern superhero mold.